Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 52

Chapter 52: 

God Save the Queen 

Speaight!” Robert called across the foyer of the great house.

“Yes, Sir.” The butler replied, pausing on his way to the morning room.

“I’ve a letter to post.” Robert shook his head. “Have Gerard and Charles returned?”

“Not yet, Sir.” Speaight smiled. “I trust they’ll be back shortly. I can take it for you.”

“I’d rather you didn’t.” Robert replied. “You’re needed here.” He sighed. “We’re going to need to get a new page quickly. We still haven’t replaced Hortence. I’m afraid that you and the others are being over-worked.”

“We’re managing quite well, Dr. Halifax.” Speaight answered brightly. “Not to worry. If you like, I can send Vi to post this for you.”

“I’m afraid we’ll have to—for now—though I don’t like the idea of sending one of the girls out. It’s not appropriate.”

“The postbox is just on the corner, Sir. I imagine Violet would welcome the chance to get out. It’s a fine day.”

“Very well.” Robert smiled. “Thank you.”

“When would you like me to gather the staff, Sir?” Speaight answered, taking the letter from Robert.

“As soon as Charles, Gerard and Hutchinson return from getting Mr. Barrett settled. If you’ll just gather them in the servants’ hall, His Grace and I will address everyone there.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Where is His Grace?” Robert asked. “In the morning room?”

“No, Sir.” Speaight furrowed his brow. “He’s in the library. I tried to convince him to use the morning room since the fire was already lit in there, but, you know how His Grace prefers to work in the library.”

“It’s too cold for him in there.” Robert shook his head. “I’ll talk with him.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find he won’t budge, Sir.” Speaight answered. “His Grace has gotten himself quite comfortable with his colors and paper. The last I saw him, Dr. Halifax, he had wedged himself with his tools behind the screen in the corner of the room. Dog Toby is at his side. In fact, Sir, I think he’s quite content. He was humming cheerfully when I left him.”

“Isn’t it remarkable?” Robert couldn’t help but smile. “The whole household is at sixes and sevens waiting for the inspector from Whitehall and our master is able to keep his spirits up in such a way.”

Speaight grinned. “His Grace is an inspiration to us all. However, if you’ll pardon me, Sir, His Grace may be my master, but he’s not yours. You are his equal.”

“I shall never be his equal, Speaight.” Robert chuckled slightly. “He is as much my master as he is yours.”

Speaight nodded, looking with admiration at the doctor, as the front door bell rang.

“Good Heavens!” Robert’s eyes widened. “That can’t be the inspector so early?”

“I hope not, Sir.” Speaight sighed, tucking the letter Robert had given him into his side pocket. “I’ll see who it is.”

Robert watched as Speaight hurried across the grand foyer and into the vestibule. When the butler opened the door, Robert’s jaw dropped—as did Speaight’s.

“Your Majesty,” Speaight gasped, bowing deeply at the incredibly pregnant Queen who stood outside the door of No. 65 Belgrave Square. On one side of the Queen was the Baroness Lehzen and, on the other, a burly, well-muscled man dressed in livery.

The Queen swept into the house as gracefully as a small woman in the late stages of pregnancy could. Louise Lehzen and the guard/footman trailed behind. She aimed herself for Robert.

Robert bowed deeply. “Your Majesty.”

“You’re the doctor?” Queen Victoria asked imperiously.

“I am, Your Majesty.” Robert replied nervously.

“My husband said you were a perfect male specimen. I see that he was correct. You’re a sculpture by Michelangelo. I see why Fallbridge keeps you.” The Queen continued rather plainly.

“Thank you,” Robert replied hesitantly as the Queen continued to study him.

“Quite lovely.” Queen Victoria nodded her approval. “Now, Dr. Halifax—that is your name, yes?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Robert nodded, still shocked that the Queen had not only left the palace in her condition—a condition in which she despised being despite the frequency with which she was in it—but was also in their foyer.

“Very well, Dr. Halifax, what is all of this nonsense I hear from Lehzen about Fallbridge murdering a man?”

Robert’s body spasmed with terror momentarily.


“Your Majesty,” Robert began. He looked helplessly at Speaight who stood at the front door in shock. “Perhaps we should retire to the drawing room to discuss this.”

“Sir,” Speaight said quickly, coming to his senses. “The fire is not lit. Pardon me, Your Majesty.”

“What are you thinking, Doctor? It’s too early for a drawing room fire. Where’s your morning room?” Victoria bellowed.

Robert absent-mindedly pointed to his right to the columned and pedimented entrance to the sunny morning room.

“Well?” The Queen repeated.

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Robert said quickly. He looked to Speaight who rushed past to open the morning room door for them.

“The baroness and Maximilian will wait here, if you don’t mind.” Her Majesty pointed to the low-upholstered settee which was nestled in the ornately papered crook of the looping staircase.

“Certainly.” Robert forced a smile.

Speaight bowed as the Queen and Robert passed him, looking up to catch Robert’s expression of sheer terror. Standing at the entrance of the room, the butler awaited his orders.

“Speaight, would you please alert His Grace that Her Majesty has paid us a visit?” Robert asked.

“Yes, Dr. Halifax.”

“And, then…” Robert added quickly. “Ask Mrs. Pepper to arrange a special tray for Her Majesty.”

“Oh, please, no.” The Queen said graciously as she arranged herself in Punch’s favorite yellow toile chair. “I could not eat. Thank you.”

Speaight bowed again, shutting the door behind him and flitted toward the staircase, trying to appear calm in front of the Baroness Lehzen and the muscle-bound man.

Alone in the morning room with the Queen, Robert stood uneasily near the mantel.

“Dr. Halifax, you may be seated now.” The Queen smiled.

“Yes, ma’am.” Robert nodded, taking the chair across from her.

“You need not be so nervous, Doctor.” The Queen continued. “You do not fear your queen. Do you?”

“No, Your Majesty. Please pardon me. Simply put, if I seem uneasy it is simply because I have little experience in the presence of Royalty.”

“You live with the Duke of Fallbridge.” The Queen grinned. “You have some experience with the aristocracy, at least. While Fallbridge is not a Duke of the Blood Royal, he is at the apex of the nobility.”

“That is true, Your Majesty.”

“This is why I find it so hard to imagine that Fallbridge has murdered someone. I’ve always found him rather timid, in fact. I’m terribly fond of Fallbridge. My husband is also. Thus, my visit. When I heard there was trouble, I knew that I must come myself even if it meant exposing my horrible condition to all of Belgravia. There are few people for whom I would leave the comfort of my rooms while burdened with this awful affliction.” She glanced down at her pregnant belly.

“I cannot imagine, Your Majesty, how truly uncomfortable in every way your condition must be. No man could ever comprehend it, and I feel for you very deeply.”

“I believe that you do.” The Queen smiled slightly. “Most men are quick to dismiss a woman who is great with child because they dare not imagine the utter pain of it all. You are different.”

“Ma’am, I have attended many a woman in Your Majesty’s condition, and, I must say, that of all of the afflictions which I have witnessed, none could be as painful as childbirth. It is a pain which to me is incomprehensible, and, so, I feel it all the more important to treat it with that much more respect.”

“I see why Fallbridge finds you so appealing.” Queen Victoria nodded. “It is not simply your charming appearance.”

“I hope, Your Majesty, that I have not spoken too plainly.”

“Not at all.” The Queen waved a hand. “Tell me, Doctor. How is Fallbridge?”

“He is quite well, Your Majesty.”

“I’m told he is changed.” The Queen shook her head. “My husband says that he is bolder, different… In fact, the Prince Consort informs me that Fallbridge even appears different—more robust, healthier. This, I suspect, is your doing?”

“I could not say, Your Majesty,” Robert replied slowly. “My only wish is that His Grace remains in good health and good spirits for many years.”

“Is he in a good humor, then?” The Queen sniffed.

“More often than not, Your Majesty.” Robert answered.

“And, yet, he claims to have murdered a man?”

Robert took a deep breath.

“This makes you nervous? Just the statement?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“And, yet, is this not what Fallbridge has claimed? He has stated to an officer of the constabulary that he murdered the man who was found outside this very house.”

“That…yes…Your Majesty, yes, that is what His Grace claims.”

“This man…this man I have found so timid in the past.” The Queen replied thoughtfully. “This very gentle, reserved, quiet genius. Regardless of how he has changed from your influence, I cannot fathom that he’s taken the life of another man.”

“His Grace would not do so about provocation, Your Majesty.”

“This foolishness about protecting a secret of mine is poppycock.” The Queen smiled. “You know that as well as I.”

Robert was silent.

“Your Queen addresses you, Doctor.”

“I do not know what to say, Your Majesty.” Robert nodded, glancing at the door and hoping that Punch would appear immediately.

“Doctor, you do know that Fallbridge is a favorite of mine?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. As you said, you would not have paid a personal visit presently were he not. His Grace is a favorite of mine as well.” Robert hoped the last comment would be found as humorous.

The Queen did not laugh nor even smile. Instead, she seemed to find the comment touching.

“Isn’t it time,” the Queen nodded, “that you tell Your Queen the truth, Doctor?”

Meanwhile, upstairs, Speaight searched frantically for Mr. Punch/the Duke. He wasn’t where the butler had left him in the library. Speaight finally found his master in his bedroom—seated under the writing desk. Punch lay on his stomach—his legs extended behind him. In front of him was his drawing pad and Punch was feverishly coloring the detail of a drawing of a brooch. Dog Toby lay next to the Duke, watching the man’s every move.

“Hullo, Speaight!” Punch chirped as Speaight rushed into the room.

“Your Grace,” Speaight panted. “I’ve been looking for you…”

“Lost me blue…what’s it called?. Thing. The blue thing.” Punch muttered. “Found it up here, so I thought I’d just draw in here. Light’s not as strong, but this is where I am, so here I’ll stay.”

“Your Grace…” Speaight snorted.

“Did ya want me?” Mr. Punch looked up cheerfully.

Speaight found the Duke’s childish expression quite enchanting and couldn’t help but smile.

“Well, yes, Your Grace. We’ve a visitor.”

“Bugger!” Punch muttered. “Ain’t the inspector, is it?”

“No…it’s the Queen.” Speaight answered.

“Sure it is.” Punch laughed.

“No. Sir—the Queen is in the morning room with Dr. Halifax.”

“The Queen?” Punch grinned. “Sure, she dragged her big pregnant self all the way to Belgrave Square to have sausages with me.” Punch’s eyes widened. “By the way, when’s breakfast.”

“Your Grace,” Speaight yelped. “The Queen is downstairs.”

“Which queen?” Punch narrowed his eyes.

“Victoria Regina, Sir.” Speaight trembled.

Punch’s eyes widened. “Here! You’re serious!”

Mr. Punch sat up quickly, belting his head on the bottom of the desk. “Bugger!” He howled, rolling out from under the writing table. Dog Toby wagged his tail. “You mean to tell me that Her Majesty Queen Victoria is downstairs with me chum?”

“Yes, Sir.” Speaight nodded anxiously. “Baroness Lehzen and some male servant are waiting in the hall.”

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…” Punch mumbled frantically. “Whatever would make her come here? She don’t like to be out when she’s with-child. She don’t like to do anything when she’s…she don’t’ even like to breathe! Oh, Hell! Oh, she’s in a foul humor, ain’t she? She’s always in a foul humor when she’s heavy with child. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”

“Please, Sir, we must remain calm.” Speaight said, helping Mr. Punch up.

“And…and…you say Robert’s with Her Majesty. Bother! He must be dyin’!” Punch squealed, rushing to put on his jacket. He raced to the door.

Pausing, Punch looked squarely at the butler. “Tell me, do I look like a Duke or do I look like a mad puppet man?”


“Speaight, this ain’t the time for indecision!” Punch chirped.

“Your Grace might wish to arrange his hair differently.” Speaight said hesitantly.

Punch hurried to the mirror and studied his reflection. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! I look like I been drowned." He ran his fingers through his wavy auburn hair, trying to brush the fringe from his forehead. Turning around quickly, he asked. “How’s that?”

“Better, Sir.” Speaight nodded.

“Good.” Punch snorted, rushing from the door.

“Sir!” Speaight called after Punch.

“What?” Punch snapped.

“Your hands, sir.” Speaight pointed at Punch’s hands—the fingertips of which were smeared with charcoal and pastel.

“Bullox!” Punch yelped, hurrying to the water basin. He scrubbed his hands hurriedly. “Did she say why she came?”

“I heard Her Majesty ask about the murder, Sir.” Speaight answered, drying the Duke’s hands with a nearby flannel.

“Oh, ain’t that a treat!” Punch howled. He looked squarely at the butler. “I gotta go down. Dr. Halifax is probably soaked with nervous sweat. Tell me—is there anything else what might offend Her Majesty.”

Speaight quickly studied his master. “I don’t think so.”

Punch snorted again.

Speaight’s eyes widened.

“Don’t worry, butler chum, I ain’t gonna do that with the Queen. I’ll play the Duke.”

With that, Punch rushed down the stairs, pausing outside the morning room door to catch his breath and smooth his hair again.

Opening the door, Punch stood dramatically at the entrance to the room, bowing theatrically. “Your Majesty, what a pleasant surprise.” He said in his best Julian voice.

“Fallbridge.” The Queen nodded as Punch entered. “You do look quite changed. I don’t recall you being so…masculine before.”

Punch blinked rapidly a few times, unsure how to respond.

“I’ve come,” The Queen continued, “about this murder business.”

“A tragic affair, indeed, Your Majesty.” Punch nodded.

“Your companion tells me that you lied to the authorities. That you didn’t have anything at all to do with this foolishness.” The Queen smiled.

Punch’s eyes widened as he looked to Robert.

“Your Majesty…I…” Robert began.

“Why would you do such a thing, Fallbridge?” The Queen interrupted.

“I had no choice, Your Majesty,” Punch replied humbly, yet still as Julian might. “I don’t know why my companion felt the need to involve you in my deception…”

“He didn’t.” The Queen grinned. “He stuck to your tale. You, however, just gave yourself away.”

“I…” Punch’s face fell.

“Now, now, Fallbridge. You mustn’t look so glum. Your queen is here to help you.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-51? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 53 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.


Dashwood said...

How very nicely you've humanized Victoria! And without deviating from what is known about her in speech, feelings and dislike of pregancy. Really cool.

Joseph Crisalli said...

Thank you, Dashwood!